There have been five further coronavirus-related deaths and 227 new cases of Covid-19 reported to the Department of Health in the past 24 hours.

The total death toll here is now 2,102 with 74,900 positive cases. This includes the denotification of nine previously confirmed cases.

The number of people in ICU at 11.30am was 38, an increase of seven since yesterday. But when the entire 24 hour period is included, there were eight more ICU admissions. 

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said the increase of eight patients in ICU was the "most in a 24-hour period since the spring time".

He added: "Covid-19 is still an extremely infectious disease which has the potential to lead to hospitalisation and even ICU admissions.

"Ireland has managed to suppress Covid-19 to the lowest incidence levels in the EU in recent weeks. We have managed to keep up our safe behaviours and worked to protect each other throughout the pandemic.

"If we do not continue to suppress the disease through the actions we have learned over recent months, we will very quickly see a surge in infections leading to an increase in hospitalisations, ICU admissions and, tragically, deaths.

"We are actively planning to begin vaccinating people in early 2021. We cannot afford to drop our guard now."

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There are 224 patients with Covid-19 in hospital, with 14 additional hospitalisations since yesterday.

Of the cases notified today, 98 are men and 129 are women with 64% under 45 years of age.

There were 70 cases in Dublin, 26 in Donegal, 19 in Limerick,14 in Louth, 14 in Kilkenny and the remaining 84 cases are spread across 17 other counties. 

The 14-day incidence rate per 100,000 population nationally is 79.5. Counties with the highest rates of infection include Donegal (226.8), Kilkenny (191.5), Louth (153.6) and Limerick (135.5).

Counties with the lowest rates of coronavirus include Leitrim (15.6), Westmeath (22.5), Wexford (24), Kerry (27.1) and Cork (28.6). 

In Northern Ireland, a further 12 people have died with Covid-19, while an additional 483 people tested positive for the virus.

The virus has now claimed 1,085 lives in Northern Ireland with a total of 56,278 confirmed cases.

Also today, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) released its weekly report into outbreaks of Covid-19.

In the week ending 5 December, there were 14 new outbreaks in schools among staff or students (but transmission within the school itself had not necessarily been established).

There were eight new outbreaks in workplaces - including one food processing plant - seven in hospitals, seven in residential institutions, five in nursing homes and five in childcare facilities.

Among vulnerable populations, the data shows one further outbreak each in the Traveller community and direct provision centres.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he believes the country will see the end of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Varadkar said it had been a day of hope yesterday as people on the island of Ireland and in the UK began to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

He said the combination of vaccines, mass testing and increased knowledge of Covid-19 will work to bring an end to the virus next year.

The Tánaiste said the Government has advance purchase agreements to buy eight million doses of vaccines for Ireland and the task force will outline an action plan, to include an information campaign, this Friday.

Mr Varadkar said the best way to get people to take the vaccine is to encourage them and answer their questions, not by brow beating or patronising them.

He said there were elements of an anti-vax campaign under way but people should stick to the facts.

Mr Varadkar pointed out that vaccines were safe and effective, and have eliminated polio and small pox from Ireland and reduced a range of other diseases.

"We got a taste in 2020 of what the world looked like before we had vaccines," he said, with tens of thousands of people dying, lockdowns and quarantines and "it was medieval".

Mr Varadkar said the Government has opted into the European system of travel and is encouraging those who do travel, particularly from a red zone, to follow the rules and public health advice.

The Tánaiste said it is likely an increase in cases will be seen in January, but that this is because people were mixing again and the possibility of reintroducing restrictions in the new year has never been ruled out.